Monday, December 11, 2006


(It's important for me to offer the disclaimer first, and forcefully:I'm not complaining. In the real scheme of things, I don't have a care in the world.)

I don't know how many days in a row I've worked. I can't remember. I was making clocks last night a 10:30. I'm not sure what that means, except that five people want clocks and I didn't have any and I ran out of week and kept going.

I've supervised the activities of construction workers, from one person to hundreds, with varying degrees of success, since I was young and Carter was president. I learned something funny about overtime, and construction workers. I'm not a construction worker any more, really, but there's a great deal of overlap.

I learned that in general, it was impossible to give a construction worker a meaningful raise, or to have them work overtime. This requires explaining.

The amount of money a construction worker would make would make prodigious jumps. It almost always involved going to a different employer. I tripled my income in one evening by simply sitting still and listening to an offer in a barroom once, for instance.

But once any construction worker in any informal non-corporate setting was ensconced in my care, I was never able to give them a raise in any meaningful way. I was constantly giving them more money, but it was never a raise.

I know that seems odd, but here's how it works: The construction worker finds a situation that is tolerable to them. They need to be able to listen to precisely the type of death metal or talk radio they prefer, at flight deck volume, and be dressed in rags if they so choose. They generally never want to talk to the end user. Drug testing is right out. There's a certain aversion to alarm clocks. There is never any aversion to having your affairs sorted out in a court.

They have a certain amount of fiscal requirements that they can recount instantly. And once their needs are met, they don't care a fig about your money. If you give them more money, they work less, because they don't think they need it. They need free time above all, and take it. If their circumstances change drastically, they have a tendency to make drastic changes in their work situation to make the fiscal adjustment, and start all over again. And construction workers will work incredible amounts of overtime when they need money, but they will never work more than 2000 hours a year. They'll work 2000 hours in a row, and then disappear.

When a customer hires a construction worker directly, they are often mystified that he often doesn't show up, and doesn't answer the phone. They shouldn't be mystified. It's very simple. They have not run out of money yet today. If they had, they'd be trying to climb in your windows at 5:00 am to get an early start, and a down payment.

When the informal worker gets tired of all the amusements of the idle poor, like deer hunting and darts and drinking and Keno and so forth, they generally go into another line of work, or they go to a big official construction company, or a union setting. A marriage and a certain amount of maturity is often the petri dish where this newfangled reliability is incubated. And in that new and official situation, they switch over to making sure they never work past 4:01, or on Saturday, and that's that.

It's the boss that's working all the time. His phone is always ringing, and he's never off duty really. It's what you get paid for, so you shouldn't complain. And the guy in the tavern or the La-Z-Boy shouldn't complain that his boss is making all that dough. He's still at work, and sober, so that you don't have to be.

But when there is no boss but the king of all bosses --the customer-- and no employees but yourself and the yellow pages, all that goes by the wayside. You work because it is necessary. You work because you know there is no slack, and no one to take it up for you even if there was.

You work because it is what you are, not what you do. And you forget how many days in a row you worked.


Editor Theorist said...

From Three men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome:

"I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being "a general disinclination to work of any kind."

What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver.

Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness."

Hazy Dave said...

Amusing observations. Now, get back to work. ;->

SippicanCottage said...

double heh.

Editor t- You remind me of Churchill's impression of Ireland:

"It is a very...moist climate."

Hazy Dave- I can't remember. Are you the one that put that Van Morrison link on Althouse? That was the funniest thing I ever heard.

You must read Fark, don't you? You could just put STFUGBTW and I'd know what you meant.

I'm Full of Soup said...

You should get paid for these wonderfully astute musings too. Excellent story-teller you are.

How much material do you have? Enough for a book? Let's face it - you are driven and driven to produce whether it be this blog or your clocks and furniture.

SippicanCottage said...

aj- Thank you very much. You are very kind. I figure I've written at least 500,000 words in the last eighteen months. Many of them are spelled properly.

I think my only problem with writing a book would be stopping. I'd be like Forrest Gump running back kicks.

I am not in that business, so I do not know exactly how to go about such a thing as getting a book contract going. I've been told about a dozen times since Friday, including by you, that I should be writing for a living. Since I do not have eleven mothers, this praise may mean something. Dunno.

I take it to mean my furniture isn't very good.

Randy said...

Let's make that an even dozen ;-). (Although a tiny voice is reminding me that most published authors don't make enough to make ends meet. I tried to ignore it, but ...)

I take it to mean my furniture isn't very good.

You'd be wrong.

Anonymous said...

So, you've met my last contractor (my cousin, Matt) ... and my cousin Jeff ... and my brother ... and everyone who works for my other cousin ... and the guy building my dad's garage.